The body of the former member of girl group f(x) was discovered by her manager in her house in Sujeong-gu, Seongnam, south of the capital Seoul, on Monday afternoon local time, police told CNN. In a statement Tuesday, Sulli’s agency SM Entertainment said the star’s family was planning a private funeral, adding that relatives were “grief-stricken by this unexpected sad news.”
But her opinions often made her a target of online trolls, particularly by anti-feminists, said CedarBough Saeji, an expert in Korean culture and society at the University of British Columbia.
“She was brave,” Saeji said on Tuesday. “The fact that Sulli repeatedly did things that misogynists didn’t like, and refused to apologize, is how she really stood out.”
Saeji said that in South Korea, K-pop stars were expected to apologize publicly when they failed to meet the high — and sometimes unrealistic — standards expected by the industry. But Sulli refused to change, even appearing on a TV show that featured K-pop stars discussing the challenges of negative online comments.
“That society would criticize her so heavily just for showing individuality in a way that did not conform exactly to Korean social norms, that’s just so incredibly sad,” Saeji said.
“I’m so sorry that she didn’t have people supporting her in the same way that she was supporting — in her own quirky way — gender equality in Korea. She was also being a voice, and being a proponent, for larger issues in Korean society.”
As of Tuesday, three petitions had been lodged on the Blue House petition site, all demanding tighter rules for cyber-bullying.
South Korea’s entertainment industry has become one of the country’s biggest exports in the past decade. But K-pop stars — who often train for years before they debut — are subject to intense pressure, which has been linked to a mental health crisis in the industry.
The singer had posted the word “Goodbye” to her Instagram account, prompting a flood of comments from concerned fans.